A Guide to Negotiating Like a Pro

Frontier Live

If you want to map a path from opposition to alignment, start simple: find out who you are and what you truly want – then do the same thing for your target.

As a society, we’re rather dreadful at negotiating.

We live in worlds of judgment and certainties, clinging to entrenched positions that give us shallow comfort in times of information overload and global chaos. News media declares “right” vs. “wrong.” Social media reinforces that polarization. And our social graphs and media diets likely have us attending only to the voices that remind us that we’re right.

We forget that negotiation, at its core, is the art of creating value, and that being a negotiator is a way of being, and a way of looking at the world; it’s an ongoing search for better net outcomes as a result of two or more parties coming together to collaborate.

But in our divided culture, we lose the ability to see nuance, to empathize with another’s position. So we lose our ability to collaborate and create value. The more “certain” we become in our positions, the less we can see the other side. And if we can’t see the other side, how can we ever hope to be skilled negotiators? After all, if you are to get what you really want, it’s necessary to know what your target wants, too. (And sometimes even to help them get it.)

Each negotiation is different, but in each we’re dealing with complex issues and complex parties (highly emotional homo sapiens). Negotiations are iterative and circular. They jump around, abstractly connecting unexpected issues.

It’s a science, but a highly interpretive one. So how can you master it?

At first, it’s all about you

Before you start negotiating anything, you need to know who you are, what you want in life, and why. This isn’t as easy as it sounds.

The near absolute absence of personal reflection time in our modern lives means many of us are negotiating important issues with no idea of who we truly are and what we truly want. Without knowing ourselves, however, we cannot hope to have a base from which we effectively negotiate. Without grounding, you’re just a hustler looking for random opportunities.


Before you start negotiating anything, you need to know who you are,
what you want in life, and why. This isn’t as easy as it sounds.


Great negotiators know who they are, what drives them, what they want from life—and that knowledge is their grounding. It gives them the energy to negotiate with endurance and the strength to do it with focus.

So start with: who are you? What’s your manifesto for your life, your Life Mission? (The structure is simple; the mental work not as easy.)

Next, work out who is important to you by building your personal solar system, what I call your Orbit of Matter. On a piece of paper, write down the names of those people who you’re working so hard to impress and provide for. Now let’s filter that a little. Imagine you’re told you have only six weeks to live. Of those people, with whom would choose to spend your dying days?

These are the people who truly matter to you. They are the people you’re ultimately negotiating for. And these are the only people whose judgment you consider and whose opinion you internalize.




So we have your life mission and we know the people who matter most to you. Now we identify what you want and what you need to fulfill the life you just sketched. We create a Life Design.

On your piece of paper, write down a category. It could be income, or travel, or job, or spouse. Next to it, describe what you would be content with in that category, what would be good, and what would be great.

For example, in the category of job, you might be content with any job that paid over $50,000 per year. A job that allowed you to use your photography skills would be good. A job that allowed you to do both of these and travel internationally would be awesome.

Be precise about what you want and why. It’s a good decluttering exercise—and you might discover there’s a lot you assumed you need and want that you actually don’t. The less you need, the stronger a negotiator you become.

So now you know who you are and what you want. Everything you negotiate should be tied to serving your Life Mission, your Orbit of Matter or your Life Design. These are your negotiating core.

If the issue at hand isn’t related to your core, you probably don’t need or want it.

For example, there’s a difference between telling oneself “I’m going to negotiate a promotion” and telling oneself, “I’m going to negotiate a promotion and use the extra income to pay for online graduate school classes so that I’m qualified for a change in career to something I love.”

Tying to something in your life design or your life mission statement gives you competitive focus and staying power. Without this tie, you’ll flounder in the face of a strong counterpart who is grounded in who they are.

Next, it’s about your target

Now you need to influence those that can provide you with what you want—we’ll call them the target. To do that, you need to climb outside of your head and into theirs. To do this, you have to understand the how a message will resonate; you must understand the relationship between content that will impact your target (signals) and the total volume of chatter (noise).

Great negotiators have very high signal-to-noise ratios. They don’t say a lot. And when they speak, the content resonates powerfully and deeply with the target. And to get that signal-to-noise ratio right, we have to be able to think and feel like the target.

So we start with basic data gathering. By mapping this information, you get a snapshot of who the target is, what they want, and what messaging will resonate with them. The sources for this research are innumerable, but you can start with the obvious: LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, corporate websites, press articles, blogs. You can further complete the target map by drawing on human sources of information—friends, colleagues, and personal assistants.

Beware, no one point of information can give you a deep understanding of a target, but overlapping, reinforcing points can generate a fairly reliable picture of the person you’re targeting.

For example, a target “liking” the Sierra Club on Facebook tells us very little about the outlook of said target. But that “like” combined with photos of them wearing Patagonia clothing, retweets of Al Gore, and driving a hybrid vehicle: that probably does.

Considering the life map of your target, now engage in an imaginative act: What, if you were them, would you be hopeful of? Afraid of? Note: this is not if you were in their role, but if you were actually them—with their personality, their life situation and their role.

This is now your foundation for understanding. Everything you offer and every way in which you speak will serve one of these purposes: helping your target reach their hopes or reduce the risk of their fears becoming reality.

If you manage this, your signal-to-noise ratio will be exceptionally high. Because everything you say will resonate with your target’s hopes or fears. They’ll feel like you truly know them and what moves them. They’ll feel that you respect them. Because, well, you do.

This is a big investment of time, but it will pay off multiple-fold.

And finally, it’s about remembering that logic is overrated 

If you remember one thing, remember this: despite what we often assume, business decisions are rarely based on logic. They’re based on emotion, ego, identity, and physiology. (Okay, and a tiny bit of logic.)

If you want to influence somebody and negotiate successfully, you have to hit them from all three angles: logical analysis, emotional argument, and engaging physiology. Obsess about all sides of the triangle as you make your case.

But know that in order of importance, emotion and physiology beat the pants off logic.

Scott Wayne is the Founder of the Frontier Project, a consulting firm that partners with companies that know they must change how they do business—and recognize they can’t do it on their own. His acclaimed book, The Cartography of Negotiation, captures years of expertise providing negotiation support and consultation for Fortune 100 companies, global nonprofits, and disruptive startups. You can buy the book here.

Scott Wayne, Consultant and Author, The Frontier Project